Israel, Jonathan. The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017. xii + 755 pages. Hardcover, $39.95.
In his latest book on the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel, Professor emeritus at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, investigates the intellectual history of the American Revolution and its profound impact across the world until the mid-nineteenth century. By successfully and lastingly challenging the pillars of the old regime, the American Revolution, as Israel argues, created the modern democratic world. Israel writes, "From 1775, America became the first [...] model of a new kind of society, laying the path by which the modern world stumbled more generally toward republicanism, human rights, equality, and democracy" (p.24). While, after establishing their own democratic republic, Americans could not do much to directly intervene in the revolutionary upheavals subsequently unfolding in Europe and Latin America. Their example, however, provided an invaluable inspiration for freedom-fighters elsewhere. Revolutionaries in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Haiti, and Columbia--to name but a few of Israel's examples--took their cue from the Americans, frequently pointing to the model character of the U.S. to justify their demands for democratic change.
The major assumption that shapes Israel's analysis of the many revolutions of the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century is the claim that the ideological turmoil that ensued the American Revolution both within the U.S. and elsewhere was a global struggle between democratic republicans, or representatives of the radical Enlightenment like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson on the one hand, and aristocratic republicans and moderate Enlightenment thinkers like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton on the other. The former championed democracy, equality, and the separation of church and state and drew their inspiration inter alia from Diderot, Condorcet, and Spinoza; the latter defended more limited forms of popular participation, the maintenance of some traditional privileges, and the ecclesiastical establishments and followed among others the theories of Locke, Hume, and Montesquieu.
Israel demonstrates convincingly that, while few of the revolutionaries had initially intended it, the American Revolution marked the break between the old order and the modern period: it "commenced the demolition of the...